Design and Tech 2011

From game-changing new materials (like moisture-wicking cotton) to evolutionary leaps in engineering (like a rotating helmet for extreme crashes), the avant-garde of 21st-century gear has just one thing in common: a total disregard for the status quo.

Harman Kardon GLA-55 Speaker

Harman Kardon GLA-55 Speaker
Harman Kardon GLA-55 Speaker

CRYSTAL CLEAR
When Harman Kardon's Kurt Solland was tasked with completely reimagining what a speaker could be, he took cues from the earth's purest expression of order: crystals. To make the GLA-55, Solland spec'ed each ten-inch-tall plastic housing with 56 watts of audiophile-quality electronics—a punchy three-inch woofer and high-bandwidth tweeter, a hidden digital amplifier, and touch-sensitive controls—delivering a powerful sound that seems as if it's booming out of an ice cave. "Good design is timeless," says Solland. "You take things that have happened for billions of years, and you combine them in a pleasing way." $1,000; harmankardon.com

Montague Boston Folding Bike

FIXED, FOLDED, FAST

Montague Boston Folding Bike
Montague Boston Folding Bike
With the flick of a quick-release lever, Montague's elegantly engineered single-speed Boston bike folds for easy stowing. And with the flip-flop hub, you can roll fixed-gear or freewheel. $769; montaguebikes.com

K2 Rictor Skis

FLOAT COUTURE

K2 Rictor Ski
K2 Rictor Ski
Powder skis with rocker—an upward bend at the tip and tails, to help lift them out of the snow—make skiing soft stuff much easier. Now, K2 is betting this new shape will change the way we ski groomed snow, too. Almost its entire line of alpine skis, like the Rictor, seen here (127/80/109), now have some degree of rocker—helping them plane in soft and variable snow without sacrificing carving power on hardpack. $800; k2skis.com

Ecco Golf Street Shoes

FORE FOOT

Ecco Golf Street Shoes
Ecco Golf Street Shoes
Skate shoes are pretty cool. Golf shoes? Not so much. But Ecco is shaking up the look on the links with its Golf Street Premier line of cleats, with skate-inspired leather uppers and low-key rubber lugs that will keep you steady at the tee and incognito on the street. $140; ecco.com

Tanita BC-1000 Scale

STEP ON IT

Tanita BC-1000
Tanita BC-1000 (Courtesy of Tanita)

Your old scale is now officially a dinosaur. Tanita's BC-1000 measures body-fat percentage, muscle mass, and daily caloric intake (oh, yeah, and weight), then uploads it all wirelessly to your computer and displays your numbers on Garmin's FR60 fitness watch ($100) or a remote display ($130), both sold separately. $280; tanita.com

Klymit Inertia X-Frame Sleeping Pad

HOT PAD

Klymit Inertia X-Frame Sleeping Pad
Klymit Inertia X-Frame Sleeping Pad
Meet the world's lightest, most packable inflatable bed. Klymit's 9.1-ounce Inertia X-Frame omits large sections where the body rarely contacts the ground, so it packs down smaller than a soda can. Bonus: You can inflate it with lightweight canisters of argon, a super-insulating gas, to make it warm enough for snow. $100; klymit.com

Komperdell Approach Carbon Trekking Pole

EXIT POLE

Komperdell Approach Trekking Poles
Komperdell Approach Trekking Poles
Collapsible trekking poles save space—but those telescoping tubes add weight. Fortunately, a new breed—like Komperdell's Approach Carbon (seen here, $240; komperdell.com) and Black Diamond's Ultra Distance ($150; blackdiamondequipment.com)—fold down into three or four sections, like a tent pole, making them both light and packable.

Brunton Flip N'Drip Coffee Maker

EASY BUZZ IT

Brunton Flip N'Drip
Brunton Flip N'Drip
Brunton's Flip N' Drip makes camp java easy for even the foggiest of heads: Just dump grounds in the filter, add boiling water, flip the whole thing over, slide out the insulated mug, and wake up. Perfect. $60; brunton.com

Easton Kilo Tent

LIGHT HOUSE

Easton Kilo Tent
Easton Kilo Tent
We knew it was only a matter of time before carbon fiber started showing up in tent poles. Easton Mountain Products' new pencil-thin Carbon Ion is 56 percent lighter than aluminum poles but more durable. The result? A new generation of insanely light tents, like Easton's freestanding Kilo, which packs in two-layer walls (mesh and rain fly), a vestibule, and 26 square feet of floor space and still weighs a buoyant 2.2 pounds. $400; eastonmountainproducts.com

Polarmax TransDry Cotton T-Shirt

WET T-SHIRT?

Polarmax TransDry Cotton T
Polarmax TransDry Cotton T
Cotton may no longer kill: The fabric that's been anathema to good outdoor layering is getting an overhaul. Cotton Incorporated spent the last two years designing a hydrophobic yarn that pulls moisture away from the skin, allowing it to dry twice as fast as traditional cotton, absorb half the water, and stay chafe-free when sweaty. Time will tell whether the resulting fabric, which Polarmax used to make this TransDry Cotton T (from $45; polarmax.com), can hold its own against merino wool or synthetics, but our first impression is good.

Roclite GTX 288 Hiking Boot

TREAD LIGHTLY

Roclite GTX 288 Hiking Boot
Roclite GTX 288 Hiking Boot
Boot or running shoe? Inov-8's new minimalist Roclite GTX 288 weighs just ten ounces (or about half as much as the average mid-cut hiking shoe) making it the lightest, fastest Gore-Tex "boot" on the trail. There isn't much here—just a thin, flexible sole, super-skinny laces, and a waterproof upper to help keep you from rolling an ankle—but it feels like it has an afterburner. $130; inov-8.com

Easton Haven Carbon MTB Wheels

HOOP DREAM

Easton Haven Carbon Wheel
Easton Haven Carbon Wheel
Carbon-fiber mountain-bike wheels tough enough to bomb the downhills on? We were skeptical, too. But the designer behind Easton's new Haven Carbon all-mountain wheels spent 20 years engineering things like body armor and rocket nose cones for the military—and the company is apparently satisfied with the results: Easton backs them with a two-year, no-questions-asked guarantee. $2,300; easton.com

Poc Receptor Backcountry Helmet

HEAD SPINNER

Poc Receptor Backcountry Helmet
Poc Receptor Backcountry Helmet
Any ski helmet will help protect your melon from a blunt-force impact—say, head-butting a spruce. But Poc's new Receptor Backcountry is built to absorb the twisting shock of a glancing blow, like when your head hits the ground while you're screaming down a groomer. Its inner layer is designed to move independently, deflecting rotational forces otherwise transferred to your brain. $250; pocsports.com

New Balance 360 Degree Run Jacket

CLOAK OF VISIBILITY

New Balance 360 Degree Jacket
New Balance 360 Degree Jacket
Think drivers really see that tiny reflective logo on your running jacket at night? Don't count on it. New Balance partnered with 3M Scotchlite to make the 360 Degree jacket highly reflective in all directions when headlights hit it but with a style that lets you look like a runner—not a crossing guard—by day. $90; newbalance.com

Polar CS500 Bike Computer

ROCK AND ROLL

Polar CS500 Bike Computer
Polar CS500 Bike Computer
Polar's pro-level CS500 isn't just the coolest bike computer in the scrum; it's also a cinch to use at high speeds. To click through its customizable, oversize readouts, you just mash down on the corner of its rocker-switch face with a thumb. All the power, cadence, and heart-rate info you'd expect (including hydration alerts) is here—and nothing else: Zero-interference technology ensures there's no data bleed from your riding buddies. $320; polarusa.com

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC3 Earbuds

QUIET ON THE JET

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC3 Earbuds
Audio-Technica ATH-ANC3 Earbuds
It used to be that if you wanted to silence droning engines, gabby seatmates, and screaming babies on a flight, you had to rely on bulky headphones. No more: Audio-Technica's noise-canceling ATH-ANC3 earbuds digitally reduce ambient noise by 90 percent and deliver sound quality that won't leave you missing your old cans. $170; audio-technica.com

Petzl Tikka XP2 Core Headlamp

BRILLIANT BEAM

Petzl Tikka XP2 Core Headlamp
Petzl Tikka XP2 Core Headlamp
This is the headlamp equivalent of a smartphone. You can connect Petzl's Tikka XP 2 Core to a computer, fine-tune its brightness (up to 50 lumens) or burn time (up to 70 hours) depending on the needs of your sport, and recharge its lithium-ion battery via USB. $110; petzl.com

Columbia Alaskan II Down Jacket

PARTIAL METAL JACKET

Columbia Alaskan II Down Jacket
Columbia Alaskan II Down Jacket
A thin metallic fabric can keep you amazingly warm (witness space blankets and post-race foil capes). The problem? Metal doesn't breathe very well. Which is why Columbia's Alaskan II Down, and all of its other Omni-Heat jackets, are lined with a matrix of tiny foil dots, which keep heat close to your body while the fabric around them lets steam out. $200; columbia.com

Spyderco Bug Knife

LITTLE BIG KNIFE

Spyderco Bug Knife
Spyderco Bug Knife
Sometimes great design is simple. Or, in this case, small. Spyderco's Bug may be minute enough for your keychain or backcountry first-aid kit, but it has the same high-quality stainless steel and craftsman's attention to detail as its full-size counterpart. It's less than three inches long and weighs less than half an ounce. $8; spyderco.com

Tecnica Phoenix 100 Air Shell Boots

BIG AIR

Tecnica Phoenix 100 Air Shell Boot
Tecnica Phoenix 100 Air Shell Boot
Customizing the fit of your ski boot has never been easier. A pair of inflatable bladders in Tecnica's Phoenix 100 Air Shell let you increase pressure without cranking down the buckles—giving you more control over the ski when you want it, plus the comfort of a quick release at the bottom. $660; tecnicausa.com
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